The Principle of Hope Critical Essays

Ernst Bloch


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

German Idealism influenced the philosophical categories Bloch used to establish his ethical and political ideal. The subjective factor in German Idealism first suggested by Immanuel Kant and developed by G.W.F. Hegel served as the basis of Bloch’s Utopian notions, which he combined with the objective quality of the materialist philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. His concept of continuous progress was taken from his interpretation of Hegel’s concept of progress. By continuous or open process succeeding ages have the opportunity to “re-utilize” or “re-function” materials from the past to accommodate their ideological needs. These ideological requirements can be either progressive or reactionary.

The Principle of Hope compiles a list of occurrences of the so-called surplus of Utopian thought throughout the ages. Bloch understands Utopia not as an impossible ideal but as a concrete state which can be achieved politically. He sees the development of Socialism as the modern expression of the Utopian function which effects this change, the goal toward which the process of history is impelled.

History, however, is not mechanically determined in Bloch’s philosophy. It advances through possibility. Possibility is itself an open process which is not determined solely by the subject. Bloch postulates that the object itself contains layers of possibility resulting in the real Possible, which for him is an objective quality. It is the true synthesis of the subjective and objective realizations of the world.

Because of this attempt at synthesis Bloch has often been placed in the Romantic tradition, where imagination and the material world are ideally fused. One of the major differences between Bloch and the philosophies of German Romanticism, however, is that Bloch insists on the inclusion of the possible development of the object, on the material objective process, while the Romantic philosophers were primarily concerned with the subjective perceptions of man. Bloch emphasizes the dialectical interaction of the subjective and objective aspects. Through this, he derives the political task of humanizing material conditions. Only by working theoretically and practically to realize the possibilities of the world can man create a more humane, less alienated environment. Thus, the question of the dialectics of freedom and order, which Bloch sets out to illuminate in his work, remains an important one.

Art has the power to reveal not yet realized meaning through the presence of the...

(The entire section is 1044 words.)